The Republic Masterplan, East India Dock, London

Introduction

Timber is not a material commonly used in largescale office refurbishments in central London, but the Republic Masterplan at East India Dock demonstrates how it can successfully transform a couple of tired 1990s office blocks into high quality sustainable and affordable workspaces and help to create a green, relaxing and biodiverse landscape around them.

East India Dock, built in the 1800s for ships laden with tea, silks and exotic spices from the east, closed in the 1960s and was developed in the late 1980s as commercial office space expanded into London’s dockland. In the original development, two stone-clad office buildings faced each other across a busy access road and the last remnant of the dock waterway. Inside, ten storeys of office space surrounded a dull concrete-lined atrium with a glazed roof.

The masterplan by architect Studio RHE has created a remarkable transformation; the space between the two office buildings is now a traffic-free walkway with a boardwalk avenue of trees, plants and seating. At its centre is the original dock waterway, now enlivened with water features and aquatic plants; canopied timber pavilions used for flexible outdoor work or meeting spaces extend over the water.

The two refurbished office buildings – now known as the Import Building and the Export Building – have been reglazed and reclad externally with black zinc panels. The lower floors which face the water garden have been extended as spaces for restaurants and cafes, already popular for lunchtime eating.

The entrance to each office building is a double-height portico lined with Siberian larch slats. The main reception is on the ground floor of the atrium which has been lined with a timber-framed structure, rising ten storeys to a newly glazed roof. The exposed timber elements create a dramatic space which is also warm and welcoming.

As Richard Hywel Evans of Studio RHE explains: ‘Timber is the defining material used throughout to unify the two buildings and connect them to the outdoor masterplan space in a holistic way. It has created warm and attractive internal public spaces while at the same time increasing the lettable office space without the need for additional work to the foundations. The use of exposed timber fosters a naturally biophilic environment. Industry research shows that access to nature and natural materials such as timber increase positivity, reduce stress and improve long term health. Natural and sustainable workplaces also tend to lease more quickly than more traditional working environments, increasing value for the client.’

The use of timber

Refurbishment of the Import Building was the first phase of the masterplan. The original steel and concrete frame was stripped back and a new lightweight glulam frame and CLT floor structure was used to extend the ten floors of offices into the central atrium. The exposed 480 x 400mm glulam columns and beams act as a storey-height grid to frame projecting glazed bays, open balustraded balconies and panels of vertical timber louvres. CLT floor panels with exposed soffits are fixed between the glulam frame and connected to the existing concrete slab edges. The timber structure has 90 minutes fire resistance and is finished with a white translucent reaction to fire coating.

The Export Building is similar in structure but, as the central ten-storey atrium was smaller, the original concrete columns have been exposed and ten floors of CLT decks span between them, creating balustraded balconies which look out over the atrium. A two-storey timber extension has been added to the east side of the Export Building. It consists of a glulam frame and CLT floor structure partially stabilised by a bay of exposed glulam ‘K’ bracing and designed to support a future four-storey extension above.

The atrium roofs of the buildings were reglazed and supported by a new glulam structure. The timber pavilions which extend over the water are constructed of CLT panels clad with Iroko boards and sheltered by CLT roof canopies. The floors, benches and tables are clad with tongued and grooved treated softwood.

The structure

The structural engineer Heyne Tillett Steel undertook extensive archive searches to understand the load bearing capacity of the existing structure, uncovering detailed archive drawings of the building including as-built pile capacities, reinforcement and other details. Verification surveys proved these drawings to be correct and reliable.

The extension to the east side of the Export Building has a glulam frame and CLT floor structure. The choice of timber meant that not only was the existing structure able to support the extension but additional storeys could also be added to it in the future without further strengthening. This had been part of the client’s brief but could not have been achieved if a steel and metal-deck slab construction had been used.

At the Import Building atrium the connections to timber elements were made with steel plates resin-anchored to the existing concrete slab and screwed to the glulam columns and doweled to the glulam beams. The steel plates were encased with a layer of timber and the dowels were plugged; this allowed the timber to char and provide fire protection to the plates while creating a seamless timber to timber connection. The timber members were designed to allow this detail to be achieved.

The lightweight nature of the timber structures made the handling of materials and labour on site extremely efficient. The timber was delivered in small elements, ready to be installed. 

Sustainability

The spruce for the glulam and CLT components was harvested from sustainably managed forests in accordance with the PEFC-accredited scheme. The Austrian and German manufacturers operate efficient production methods without waste and use high-tech CNC production processes to ensure that the timber was cut to precise measurements, with off-cuts reused for bio-fuel power. Each timber element was manufactured off-site and delivered to the site at the precise moment that it was needed, minimising disturbance to neighbours.

Most of the existing structural elements have been retained, reused and repurposed. Heyne Tillett Steel has calculated the carbon of the new office structures. For the Export Building the count equates to approximately 88 kgCO2e/m2 for the new floor area, a 73 per cent improvement of the structural portion (65 per cent) of the RIBA 2030 target of 500 kgCO2e/m2.

For the Import Building the count equates to 155 kgCO2e/m2 for the new floor area. This is only 9 kgCO2e/m2 and 12 kgCO2e/m2 for the total building areas respectively.

In both buildings the basement has been fitted out with storage for more than 250 bicycles together with changing rooms, showers, lockers and toilets, all designed to encourage people to cycle to work. For those who use public transport the East India DLR station is a few minutes walk.

Awards

Structural Timber Awards 2018 – Commercial project of the year
AJ Architecture Rebirth 2018 – Shortlist
Building Awards 2018 Refurb of the Year – Shortlist
New London Architecture Awards 2018 Conservation and Retrofit – Shortlist
AJ Retrofit Awards 2018 – Highly Commended
New London Architecture Awards 2019 Public Spaces – Shortlist

 

Prepared by the publishing team with contributor Susan Dawson.

Completion Date:

September 2019

Building Type:

Office refurbishment and new public realm

Location:

East India Dock, London

Client:

Trilogy Real Estate

Architect:

Studio RHE

Structural Engineer:

Heyne Tillett Steel

Main Contractor:

Galliford Try

Joinery:

DTP Ltd, Ahmarra Installations

Structural Timber Supplier and Installer:

Wiehag, Hess Timber

Timber Elements:

roof, atrium, extension structure, pavilions, cladding

Timber Species:

PEFC-certified Austrian and German spruce. FSC-certified Austrian spruce, FSC-certified British and Siberian larch, FSC-certified West African iroko

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